Green hydrogen

Green hydrogen

Is stewardship of water the missing piece of the puzzle for green hydrogen?

15 December 2021

Energy and resources

Green hydrogen

Green hydrogen is poised to revolutionise renewable energy for some key industry sectors - but in Australia, these enormous water demands are also poised to accelerate some of our existing challenges in providing water security for industry and regions in a way that is affordable and sustainable.

Green hydrogen requires green inputs, and with water as the key raw material, requiring around 9 litres of water per kilogram of hydrogen produced, it seems we should be sourcing this water thoughtfully. What could this look like?

It might be easy to assume existing nearby water supplies should be able to handle early pilot phases of production and that in the future, ‘desalination plants or similar’ could cover the rest. Still, technical and financial feasibility is unlikely to be that simple, and the question remains - is this ‘green’ enough for the coming market?

Perhaps the answer lies in the concept of stewardship, where the blind consumption of a commodity gives way to an engaged approach to responsible management of it instead. In regions where hydrogen production will be adding to a long list of increasing water demands from population and industry, water availability can’t stay as a project-specific or site-specific consideration. Water represents an interconnected system, a shared challenge, and a collective opportunity.

We are already seeing our customers across industries increasingly asking for support to understand the broader risks associated with the water systems they operate within - with an eye on governance, stakeholder resilience, environmental impact, and community risks, in addition to the real-world security of the water supply needed. This trend seems likely to accelerate as enormous industrial demands continue to come online with a foreseeable market expectation of being genuinely sustainable.

There are likely to be a whole range of potential options for water sourcing that could supplement new supplies - especially in the interaction with other local water systems. The cheapest of these options is nearly always freeing up more water by finding opportunities to optimise demands and eliminate embedded wastage in nearby supplies. Still, there are also opportunities for industrial and municipal scale wastewater reuse and sharing with much lower
energy and cost intensity than sourcing new water. No doubt, freshwater sources will need to be an essential part of the solution but working collaboratively with other regional stakeholders to map out constraints and put all options on the table as a first step is likely to be strategic from a risk and financial perspective.

While the mix of opportunities and barriers is likely to be unique to each location, a common thread is likely to be the need to be planning well ahead. A lesson that the water industry has learned through experience is that last-minute reactive solutions to water shortages are rarely feasible and never economic.

With careful up-front consideration, it is exciting to think that the green hydrogen industry could avoid the trap of treating water as the ‘missing piece’ and instead show leadership in water management by acting as thoughtful stewards of their supply chain.

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